New Paltz town council members were all in attendance at a special board meeting on Thursday, with but one item on the agenda: referring the proposed gateway moratorium to members of the town and county planning boards for comment. They did not adjourn for more than two hours.
The gateway moratorium is a nine-month period during which planning and building along Route 299 from South Ohioville Road to the ShopRite plaza would be limited while new zoning for this area would be written and passed. Some residents began requesting this in January, a reaction at least in part to the proposed CVS drug store and Five Guy Burgers and Fries at the corner of 299 and North Putt Corners Road.
Council members Marty Irwin and Jeff Logan are opposed to the moratorium. Logan complained that the moratorium fails to meet several key criteria, including a valid public purpose and a burden largely shared by taxpayers as a whole. Rather than addressing the specific land-use problem that he said needed to be defined in the moratorium, the language is instead quite general. “The town can expect to be sued on the zoning changes,” he said.
Town Supervisor Neil Bettez and Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres feel differently. Both stated repeatedly throughout the evening that all board members were being asked to do was perform the administrative action of referring the proposed law for comment.
“I look forward to a vigorous debate” on the merits of the moratorium law, Bettez said, but not until after comments are returned by planning board members.
“I understand your confusion,” Logan replied, explaining that he wanted to fix problems in the language “before sending it anywhere.” Logan had already made it clear that he had counted the votes, and that his and Irwin’s would be insufficient to stop the moratorium from becoming law.
“The law is a legitimate topic of debate,” Irwin chimed in, resisting the push to narrow conversation to the referral alone.
Logan continued, saying that the ad-hoc committee which recommended a moratorium was packed with residents opposed to the CVS project, the halting of which he believes to be the law’s only true purpose. He asked Torres to provide specific language in the current zoning to which he is opposed, but Torres rebuffed him.
“I’m not going to play ‘Jeff Logan Jeopardy!,'” Torres replied. “Nobody wins that way.”
Logan shot back, “I will take that as you have no idea.”
Bettez jumped in, arguing that controlling zoning is perhaps the one power which rests solely with town governments. Logan asked the supervisor the same question, which Bettez dodged, saying, “It’s not up to me to decide.” Rather, he said that this moratorium is a result of listening to community members.
Torres offered an explanation when Irwin echoed the question, saying that many projects in this part of town face stiff resistance from residents, suggesting that the zoning as written no longer reflects their values. Putting a moratorium in place to change the zoning would be a proactive approach, he went on, one that would reduce the chance that a developer would face months of delays as neighbors rallied against a proposal.
Irwin, like Logan, tried to confirm that this law is narrowly targeted. He questioned why this is the only B-2 zone under scrutiny, as there are projects “scattered throughout the town.” In addition, he provided his own estimate that it would cost $349,000 to pass the moratorium and zoning, as well as defend against anticipated lawsuits. “That amount of money could pay for a pool liner,” he said.
“If we just throw up our hands and not do anything because we’re afraid to be sued, we’re not doing our job,” said Bettez.
Attorney Victoria Polidoro, who helped draft the law, was on hand to provide counsel. She agreed that the motion on the table to refer for comment “is more housekeeping,” and that keeping the public hearing on the moratorium open until responses were received would be appropriate. Doing so would not “bind anyone to vote on this version.”
Logan then turned to Polidoro to find out what public purpose she thought this moratorium law served, but she demurred, preferring to respond only during an attorney-client conference, out of public view. “It’s troubling that you can’t say in public,” Logan said to her.
When the vote on referral was taken, Irwin and Logan were the dissenters on losing end of a 3-2 vote, as expected. Irwin summarized his skepticism by comparing this process to the one undertaken to protect the Mill Brook Preserve: “If there’s no hurry on the conservation easement, then there’s no hurry on this,” he said, adding, “unless you’re singling out a project.”
Senior housing project would face “serious financial hardship”
One project which is getting pushback early on in the process is Ferris Woods Apartments, and engineer Pete Setaro was on hand to argue against the moratorium on behalf of his client. The Ferris Woods proposal is for 60 two-bedroom senior citizen apartments built on 43 acres that would be accessed from the end of Brouck Ferris Boulevard, off South Ohioville Road, with an emergency access route running from the back of the nearby car wash on Route 299. He said that if that project was not exempted, it would pose a “serious financial hardship” on the owners, whom he said had already invested considerably in the project. The project would not be visible from or directly impact traffic on Route 299, he said, and is being planned in a way that is “respecting the wetlands” surrounding the parcel. In fact, the current proposal calls for both the emergency access road and well to be inside the wetlands buffer area. He also asserted that the senior-citizen residents would have no recreational needs.
While Ferris Woods has only been discussed at a single planning board meeting, already neighbors are speaking out about the changes such a project would bring to the people who already live on Brouck Ferris Road.
Hearing next week
A public hearing on an amended version of the proposed local law calling for a nine-month moratorium on all applications and permits in the town’s Exit 18 Gateway area will be held Thursday, October 27 at 7 p.m. at the Community Center. Copies of the proposed amended local law are available for review at the town hall.